Can you recall Neeraj Prajapati? Neeraj Ram Prajapati was an artist and an idol maker who had become the target of a frenzied Muslim mob in January 2020. Neeraj was a part of the pro-CAA tricolour march in Lohardaga, Jharkhand on January 23, 2020 when a Muslim mob had attacked the rally. Neeraj was hit on the head with an iron rod by the violent mob on 23 January. He was forced to hide in his shop to save his life. On reaching home, he lost consciousness and fainted. The ambulance service was denied to the family despite repeated requests. Neeraj was taken to the Orchid hospital but the doctors raised their hands and instead referred him to Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS). He breathed his last after battling with life for 5 days.
Seeing his family’s plight OpIndia had started a campaign to crowdfund monetary help for his family and Rs 15 lakh were donated by concerned citizens in a single day. Several of our readers had stepped up to assist Neeraj’s destitute family.
Today, a little over two years have passed since the family lost their sole breadwinner and the local police station in-charge seems to have completely forgotten about Neeraj’s death. Be it the government of Jharkhand or the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), none have come forward to extend any sort of help to the family of the deceased and now the situation of the family is very precarious. Neeraj’s wife is distressed as she feels that many people had made big promises at that time, however, with the passage of time everyone’s forgotten them.
What happened to Neeraj Ram Prajapati
In Jharkhand’s Lohardaga, when the pro-CAA march was passing through a Muslim locality near Amla Toli on 23 January, stones and petrol bombs were hurled at the participants by the local Muslims. Women became the specific targets of the ruthless mob. Shops and homes belonging to the Hindus were set on fire. This created a state of panic and resulted in a stampede. Roughly, 100 participants and 24 policemen had sustained injuries during the unprovoked attack by the violent mob.
Neeraj Prajapati had also been caught in the crossfire. He was hit on the head with an iron rod by the violent mob who chanted slogans such as ‘Nara-e-Takbir, Pakistan Zindabad.’ He’d experienced a cerebral bleed as a result of a rod attack from behind. On January 27, 2020, he passed away at Ranchi’s RIMS.
Neeraj Prajapati was the sole bread earner of his family
Neeraj was the source of support for his ailing parents. He ran a sculpting shop with the help of his elder brother. Besides the pension that Neeraj’s father receives from his erstwhile job as a teacher, the shop bore the expenses for the family.
Neeraj is survived by his wife and two children, a daughter aged eleven years old, and a son aged five. It may be noted that Neeraj’s wife had earlier written a letter to Hemant Soren, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, requesting justice for her husband’s death and compensation for the family’s upkeep.
Neeraj Prajapati’s final rituals were performed in complete darkness, using only torchlight
It may be recalled that after the unfortunate death of Neeraj Prajapati questions were raised on the local administration and police’s apathy in handling his case. His family had then alleged that the administration had tried to cover up the iron rod attack on him by the Muslim mob.
The local administration had restricted the number of people who could attend Neeraj’s funeral procession to 35 people. They had not only barred outsiders from attending his funeral procession but also denied permission to use the village crematorium for his last rites due to a mosque that fell in the way.
Threats were issued to a local journalist who tried recording Neeraj’s last journey. Moreover, the local administration had not even allowed the people of the area to stand on the roofs of their respective houses to watch Neeraj’s last journey. The entire procedure was carried out in complete secrecy. In fact, Neeraj Prajapati’s final rituals were performed in complete darkness, using only torchlight.
OpIndia started a campaign to raise funds for Neeraj’s family
OpIndia had decided to assist Neeraj’s family financially in January 2020. Approximately Rs 32.5 lakh was raised from the general public during this time. A total of Rs 11.4 lakh was collected through crowdfunding, with the remaining amount was transferred to the deceased’s wife’s bank account directly.
The family’s present circumstance as revealed by Neeraj’s nephew
OpIndia spoke with Neeraj Prajapati’s nephew, Abhishek Prajapati who said: “About 20 days after his Neeraj (Abhishek’s maternal uncle) died, Neeraj’s father died as well. He could not bear the loss of his son, said Abhishek adding that last year Neeraj’s sister too passed away due to breast cancer. The father’s pension was reduced following his death.”
“Now only Neeraj’s mother, his brother, his wife and 2 children are left in the house. His daughter is currently studying in class 3, while the son is not going to any school yet. Neeraj’s brother is taking care of the house by making idols etc. Since this is a seasonal job the income of the family keeps fluctuating. The family is sustaining with the money that they received as help as they do not have any source of fixed income,” added Abhishek.
Neeraj’s nephew further revealed that the Hemant Soren government in Jharkhand had once provided only Rs 20,000 as an aid to Neeraj’s family. After that, they have not received any help from the administration, rued Abhishek.
No separate arrest has been made in Neeraj’s murder case
While speaking about the unresponsiveness of the state machinery in handling Neeraj’s murder case, Abhishek Prajapati further revealed how the police, in the last two years, have not taken any interest in the case. The police and administration had constantly pressurized the family to say that Neeraj died due to a fall in the bathroom. Neither did the police file a separate case nor did it make any separate arrests pertaining to Neeraj’s murder.
The only arrest made by the Jharkhand police was that of twenty-two persons who were connected with the violence at Lohardaga, that too people from both the Hindu and Muslim communities were apprehended, said Abhishek.
He added, “Muslims have also been compensated for their burnt shops and vehicles. As regards the victim’s of the Hindu side, no one has been provided with any sort of compensation to date. Until now, no government official has approached us. Since Neeraj was brutally injured in the attack, he was unable to identify his perpetrators. A month ago, the police had asked us to provide a copy of Neeraj’s brother-in-law’s statement that he had recorded two years ago. That we submitted. Apart from that, there has been no action taken by the authorities in our favour, lamented Neeraj’s nephew.
My husband was the backbone of the house: the wife of Neeraj Prajapati awaits justice
OpIndia spoke with Divya, Neeraj’s wife. “My husband was the backbone of the house,” Divya rued adding that they were all shattered after his untimely demise. “My father-in-law died as he could not bear the loss of his son. My sister-in-law died later that year, in September 2021. Now we are five people left in the family. When my husband died, many came up and made huge promises, like looking after the education of my children and so on. But no one has shown up thereafter. Never make a promise you can’t keep,” said the distressed Divya adding that she had apprised about her family’s situation to Human Rights authorities in Delhi, but to no avail.
It may be noted that Neeraj’s wife had filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission on March 2, 2020, but the statutory body had dismissed it on December 1, 2020, stating: “Since the prayer of the complainant relates to the policy decision and no atrocity is alleged to have been committed by any State /Public Authority with regard to the occurrence in question, this petition is not entertainable at this level. However, taking a sympathetic view let a copy of the petition along with this order be sent to the Deputy Commissioner, Lohardagga for needful, in accordance with the law. It is made clear that no proceeding is drawn at this level. With the above observation(s)/direction, this case is disposed of. Let a copy of this order be sent to the complainant for information.”
Local SHO is not aware of the case
OpIndia contacted the SHO of Lohardaga police station to inquire about the matter. The SHO said, “There was another officer at that time. I was not here then. I am not aware of this case.”